The looming famine

The alert recently given by the Federal Government that the country should expect an impending famine next year given the current experience of daily exportation of as much as 500 trucks of grains smacks of either idle scaremongering or self indictment or both. This is because the auguries have been potent enough for any serious establishment to have done something to avert such a development.

If the prices of food and consumer items have escalated exponentially in the last one year in a country where agriculture is still being run by aged peasants and by rain-fed methods, talking about a looming famine is quite preposterous because indeed the famine is already here and it can only worsen. Only a few months ago, we had cause to comment on the growing army of malnourished children in which Kaduna State took the leading position.  Arguably, the impending famine to be suffered more by the downtrodden is government-inflicted because the option of buying up the bumper harvest from the farmers through strategic reserves was open to the government, but it chose in its wisdom  to ignore it. The volume of grains leaving the country daily is a phenomenon that should have been anticipated by a proactive and sensitive administration.

According to media reports, the Federal Government has asked religious and community leaders to persuade farmers to stop selling their farm produce outside the shores of the country as if it was an illegitimate business. Asking community and religious leaders to take over government’s role where only a policy intervention can be effective is the peak of abdication and insensitivity. The sad truth is that, for quite a long time, Nigeria has been forced to cope with a blundering leadership only reacting to stimuli from its economic environment rather than deliberately creating the determining ripples that will favour it. The crashing value of the naira has caused the grains to be cheaper than they were previously, making their movement across the borders a lucrative imperative.The country’s economic team ought to have anticipated this and prepared to stave it off by offering a better alternative to the producers.

The Nigerian farmers, most of whom operate on a small scale, can barely wait to delay selling their farm produce but the government can offer to buy these products off them and store them in silos. That is the only way to keep the prices of these grains stable and free from the fluctuations that the vagaries of the seasons may induce. The demand for maize for instance is very high and it is induced by both human and livestock consumption. It is a staple food across the country whose scarcity could induce a major food crisis. Knowing that, a proactive administration would have confronted this reality with plans for food security instead of groaning about a looming famine that could have been avoided by government strategy.

There is therefore a desperate need to increase food production in a modern and competitive way by involving the energetic youths immediately. The governments at the states should build silos to store the bumper extras that cannot be immediately consumed for planned and systematic release into the market. On account of their strategic importance, the government may consider a partnership with the organised private sector for the maintenance of an even keel in the general availability and prices of food items and other consumables. This is the duty of governments all over the world and there is absolutely no reason why it should be different here in Nigeria. As the world is experiencing a crash in the prices of crude oil, the next thing wisdom dictates is that an alternative source of survival be sought. Fortunately, the option of agriculture is still open to the country for both economic survival and food security.

It is a national shame that Nigeria is exasperated to the point of seeking help from religious and community leaders by the mere threat of a looming famine despite its natural endowments in terms of climate and fertile soil. A little bit of strategic planning is all that is needed to change the narrative of hunger, vulnerability and despondency to a prevailing dominion over the odds and hope for a brighter future.